Skip to main content


Log in

The Rufiji River flood: plague or blessing?

  • Climate and Perception
  • Published:
International Journal of Biometeorology Aims and scope Submit manuscript


The building of a large multipurpose dam is planned at Stiegler’s Gorge on the Rufiji River (Tanzania). Both national and local authorities have strongly emphasised the flood control aspect of the dam as they see the Rufiji floods as a major constraint to development. Though it is true that the Rufiji River has a high flow variability at various timescales, the flood perception in local communities differs from this view. The floods, essential for the sustenance of floodplain fertility, and therefore of the farming system, and vital to the productivity of most of the natural resources on which local communities depend, are perceived as a blessing, whilst droughts and the absence of regular flooding are perceived as the main threat. Historically, most of the food shortages in Rufiji District are associated with drought years and the myth of “the flood as a plague” emerged only in the late 1960s during the Ujamaa villagisation policy. The persistence of this myth is favoured by the inadequate assessment of the complexity of the local economies by the District technical staff. This difference in perception of the flood has major implications for development options. Under the current dam design, the alteration of the flooding pattern would have negative consequences for the downstream wetland and forest ecosystems and the flood-associated livelihoods of some 150,000 people. A cost-benefit analysis of flood control measures and a study of a dam design that would maintain the beneficial aspects of flooding should be accorded the highest priority.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Acreman MC (2003) Case studies of managed flood releases. Environmental flow assessment part III, World Bank water resources and environmental management best practice brief n° 8. World Bank, Washington DC

    Google Scholar 

  • Agrar- und Hydrotechnik (1982) Irrigated agriculture in the lower Rufiji Valley. Prefeasibility study. Essen, Germany

  • Baldus RD (ed) (2004) Lion conservation in Tanzania leads to human-lion conflicts with a case study of a man-eating lion killing 35 people. GTZ Wildlife Programme in Tanzania, Wildlife Division, DAR Es Salaan

  • Bantje H (1979) The Rufiji agricultural system: impact of rainfall, floods and settlement. Bureau of Resource Assessment and Land Use Planning Research, paper n°62, University of Dar Es Salaam

  • Bantje H (1980) Floods and famines: a study of food shortages in Rufiji District. Bureau of Resource Assessment and Land Use Planning Research, paper n°63, University of Dar Es Salaam

  • Bergkamp G, McCartney M, Dugan P, McNeely J, Acreman M (2000) Dams, ecosystem functions and environmental restoration. Thematic Review II.1, prepared as an input to the World Commission on Dams, Cape Town,

  • Bourdieu P, Passeron JC (1990) Reproduction in education, society and culture, 2nd edn. Sage Publications, London, UK

    Google Scholar 

  • Brilly M, Polic M (2005) Public perception of flood risks, flood forecasting and mitigation. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 5:345–355

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Doody K, John P, Mhina F, Hamerlynck O (2003) Merging traditional and scientific knowledge for environmental awareness. The World Wetland Day Celebrations Held in Utete, Rufiji on 2nd February 2003. IUCN REMP Technical Reports n° 33

  • Duvail S (2004) Water management and resource use in eastern African wetlands. Pangea 41/42:57–60

    Google Scholar 

  • Duvail S, Hamerlynck O (2006) Crues artificielles et gestion intégrée des basses vallées des fleuves africains: les exemples du fleuve Sénégal (Afrique de l1Ouest) et du fleuve Rufiji (Afrique de l1Est)". In: Chaussade J, Guillaume J (eds) Pêche et aquaculture. Pour une exploitation durable des ressources vivantes de la mer et du littoral. Presses Universitaires de Rennes, coll. Espace et Territoires, pp 471–485

  • Duvail S, Hamerlynck O, Nandi RXL, Mwambeso P, Elibariki R (2006) Participatory mapping for local management of natural resources in villages of the Rufiji District (Tanzania). Electron J Inf Syst Developing Countries 25:1–6

    Google Scholar 

  • Elton JF (1879) Travels and researches among lakes and mountains of eastern and central Africa. Murray, London

  • Erftemeijer PLA, Hamerlynck O (2005) Die-back of the mangrove Heritiera littoralis in the Rufiji Delta (Tanzania) following El Niño floods. J Coast Res 42:228–235

    Google Scholar 

  • Euroconsult and Delft Hydraulics Laboratory (1980) Identification study on the ecological impacts of the Stiegler’s Gorge Power and Flood Control Project. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

  • Havnevik KJ (1993) Tanzania: the limits of development from above. Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, Sweden in cooperation with Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Tanzania

    Google Scholar 

  • Hoag HJ (2003) Designing the delta: a history of water and development in the Lower Rufiji River Basin, Tanzania, 1945–1985. PhD Thesis, Boston University

  • JBG Gauff Ingenieure (2000) Rufiji Bridge and its floodplain crossing. Supplementary hydrological study and evaluation of flood records following the 1997–1998 El Nino floods. Final report for the Ministry of Works, United Republic of Tanzania. JBG Gauff Ingenieure, Frankfurt, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

  • Lockwood M (1998) Fertility and household labour in Tanzania. Demography, economy, and society in Rufiji District, c. 1870–1986. Clarendon, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Marsland H (1938) Mlau cultivation in the Rufiji valley. Tanganyika Notes Rec n°5:55–59

    Google Scholar 

  • Milledge SAH, Kaale BK (2003) Bridging the gap: linking timber trade with infrastructure development and poverty eradication efforts in Southern Tanzania. TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa, Dar es Salaam

  • Norad/VHL (1978) Rufiji basin multipurpose development: Stiegler’s Gorge power and flood control development. Report on Hydraulic Studies in Lower Rufiji River, vol 1: Main Report. Oslo, Norway

  • Norconsult (1972) Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower utilization: preliminary report. Oslo, Norway

    Google Scholar 

  • Ologunorisa TA, Abawua MJ (2005) Flood risk assessement: a review. J Appl Sci Environ Manag 9:57–63

    Google Scholar 

  • Paul BK (1984) Perception of and agricultural adjustment to floods in Jamuna floodplain, Bangladesh. Hum Ecol 12:3–19

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Radcliffe-Brown AR (1940) On joking relationships. J Int Afr Inst 13:195–210

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Radcliffe-Brown AR (1949) A further note on joking relationships. J Int Afr Inst 19:133–140

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • RUBADA (2001) Development of Stiegler’s Gorge multipurpose project for hydropower, agriculture and flood control. Rufiji Basin Development Authority RUBADA

  • Rufiji District Council (1997) Rufiji District, socio-economic profile. United Republic of Tanzania, Utete

    Google Scholar 

  • Sunseri T (2002) Vilimani: Labor migration and rural change in early colonial Tanzania. Social History of Africa. Heinemann, New York

  • Telford A (1929) Report on the Development of the Rufiji and Kilombero Valley. Crown Agents for the Colonies, London

  • Turpie J (2000) The use and value of natural resources of the Rufiji Floodplain and Delta, Tanzania. IUCN REMP Technical Reports n° 17,

  • World Commission on Dams (2000) Dams and development. A new framework for decision-making. Earthscan, London

    Google Scholar 

  • WREP (2003) Development of a computerised flood warning model and study of hydrological characteristics of the Lower Rufiji floodplain and Delta. Water Resources Engineering Department, University of Dar es Salaam for IUCN REMP Technical Reports N° 14

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stéphanie Duvail.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Duvail, S., Hamerlynck, O. The Rufiji River flood: plague or blessing?. Int J Biometeorol 52, 33–42 (2007).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: